Friday, May 27, 2011

Reiki for Birth Fears and Trauma

Reiki for Birth Fears and Trauma by
Tiffany Hoffman, MS, LMT, RM

Concerns during pregnancy can be a normal part of the process. Women often begin to feel the desire to protect their new child from the moment they find out they are pregnant. When those concerns become fears that detract from, rather than add to, the health and safety of the pregnancy, it may be beneficial to address them. Cultural attitudes, family beliefs, and media portrayals of the nature of birth can play into fears. Excess fear by its very nature is counterproductive to the processes of pregnancy and birth. Our bodies cannot differentiate between a true threat to our survival and a birth related fear. Both produce a very similar chemical response that bathes the mother’s body (and therefore the baby) in hormones that support the “fight-or-flight” reaction. These hormones increase your heart rate and blood pressure, increase your rate of breathing, halt the digestion process and decrease immune system functioning so that all available energy can go to the brain and muscles to escape the threat. Because mother and baby are an interconnected unit, what the mother feels the baby feels. Reiki can be employed to address fears in a safe and gentle way that can help improve the overall health of the pregnancy as well as prepare the mind and body for a healthy labor.

During labor, the stress response can also play a role in the course of labor. One theory that sheds light on the concept of fear as it relates to the process of labor is the Pain-Fear-Tension cycle. When a woman experiences fear it creates tension in the body. That muscular tension uses energy and oxygen that is needed by the contracting uterus and other essential muscles. This is compounded when a woman feels she has no available coping mechanism for the increase in pain sensations, which begins the cycle again, turning it into a downward spiral. This cycle and the woman’s stress response can literally bring labor to a halt. Adrenaline, a stress hormone, works directly against oxytocin, the hormone responsible for uterine contractions. The term “failure to progress” during labor can refer to multiple reasons why labor stalls, including physical and emotional causes. If a woman is in an environment, mentally or physically, that makes her feel afraid, the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones will slow labor to ensure that the mother can get to a safe place and give the greatest chance of survival to her offspring. Ina May Gaskin explains this phenomenon called “Sphincter Law”. The cervix is a muscular sphincter that serves to keep the uterus closed and as such responds the same way as those sphincters involved in urination and defecation. In an environment that does not provide privacy and intimacy, these sphincters have a much more difficult time relaxing. Think about what happened the last time you were using the restroom and someone walked in unexpectedly. Everything stops until you again feel safe and comfortable. High levels of adrenaline actually can prevent these sphincters from opening and will prevent the cervix from fully dilating. This can start an unwanted cascade of interventions.

Birth is a primal behavior that is best governed by the brain stem. When women are plagued with constant fears, worries, and thoughts they engage the cognitive part of their brain that does not aid, and very often inhibits, the birthing process. By addressing the fear and working to physically reduce the tension, the spiral can be avoided or reversed and women may be better able to give themselves over to this primal process. When fears have been identified and strategies for coping have been employed, the birth process is more likely to proceed in a normal fashion.

Pain and Anxiety Reduction During Labor
Because Reiki induces relaxation, it reduces the perception of pain and helps the laboring woman rest when necessary and conserve her energy during the physically challenging process of labor. Reiki can also help reduce blood pressure, allowing for vital oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the baby.

Previous Traumatic Birth Experience
Some woman have found difficulty in adjusting to life and parenthood following a traumatic birth experience. Other woman may be expecting an additional child and may want to work through the past experience before going into labor again. Reiki can help the mother resolve lingering feelings and negativity from a previous experience.

History of Sexual Assault or Abuse
Birth is a personal and intimate process involving the same anatomical parts as sexual activity. The process of labor and birth can often unexpectedly trigger emotions and memories of previous sexual abuse or assault. Some women may not remember the abuse, but repressed memories stored in the body can be triggered during labor and birth. Common triggers can be words used by caregivers (“relax, it won‘t hurt as much”, “give in”, “don’t fight it”), loss of control, invasive exams, pain in the same area as the abuse, exposure, and mistrust of strangers or authority figures. One often overlooked effect of sexual abuse/assault is its impact on breastfeeding. Reiki sessions geared towards finding possible triggers and corresponding coping mechanisms can help improve the birth experience.

Pregnancy Loss, Stillbirth, or the Loss of a Child
The loss of a pregnancy or death of a child can be one of the most devastating life experiences. Women who have been deeply affected by loss can use Reiki to continue through the grieving process, find closure or manage fears and concerns regarding a current or future pregnancy or birth. Reiki can also address the physical body and the effects of stress inherent to loss.

Reiki for Pregnancy and Labor Preparation

Reiki for Pregnancy and Labor Preparation
By Tiffany Hoffman, MS, LMT, RM

What is Reiki?
Reiki is an ancient Japanese form of energy work that calms the portion of the autonomic nervous system which is involved in the “fight or flight” response. Calming this portion of the nervous system brings about the relaxation response which improves digestion, decreases heart rate and blood pressure, slows breathing, and can improve sleep. It involves hand placements that affect the flow of energy throughout the body and is a safe, gentle way to produce favorable change. For expecting women, Reiki offers a safe space to release fears and let go of worries, while connecting with their body and their baby. Reiki is non-invasive and can benefit a wide range of ailments. The calming effect on the nervous system aids the body in repairing and healing itself as the body is able to more effectively utilize energy and nutrients that were being diverted to other areas to ensure survival. In chronic stress, the energy that is used to digest food and perform much needed bodily maintenance is used instead to ready the body to defend itself or run. This consistently heightened state of stress eventually wreaks havoc on the body.
One benefit of a nervous system that is calm is deeper, more restorative sleep. During deep sleep is when the body does the bulk of its repairs that serve to maintain health. Another benefit is a reduced perception of pain. The nervous system in a heightened state helps us address those areas that need attention by making us more aware of pain. During pregnancy, the normal changes that accompany the growing baby can cause discomfort, and by calming the nervous system, these discomforts can be reduced or eliminated.

For these reasons and more, Reiki is becoming more widely used in various settings including emergency rooms, ambulances, hospices and other medical settings throughout the country. Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut conducted a study using Reiki during pregnancy with the following results:
94% reduction in stress and anxiety
78% reduction in pain
80% reduction in nausea and morning sickness
86% improvement in quality of sleep

Effects of High Levels of Stress During Pregnancy
Everyone experiences stress to some degree. Often times it isn’t the amount of stress that matters, but how it is dealt with. Finding a coping mechanism that allows healthy release of tension or induces relaxation can make all the difference. When there is no coping mechanism for stress, risk of certain conditions during pregnancy can increase, such as:
Increased risk of premature delivery
Increased risk of low birth weight
Increased Blood Pressure
Increased Heart Rate
Increased risk of chronic anxiety

Along with a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, Reiki can be a useful tool in coping with the stresses of everyday life.

Which Conditions or Situations Can Be Helped with Reiki for the Childbearing Woman?

The ways in which stress may affect fertility are different for every woman. Reiki can help the body find a state of homeostasis that allows for deep, regenerative sleep, hormonal balancing and emotional healing that can increase the body’s ability to perform all biological processes, including reproduction. It works well in conjunction with assisted fertility technologies as well as natural conception.

Overall Pregnancy Health
Reiki induces the relaxation response which allows the body to use available resources to improve overall health. Reiki also creates a safe environment to address concerns regarding pregnancy, birth and parenting. Some other benefits include:
Easing morning sickness
Reducing tension felt in the joints
Can help reduce blood pressure
Improves immune system function
Restoring energy and reducing fatigue
Helps the mother prepare physically, emotionally and spiritually for birth
Can increase positive, loving feelings towards the baby
Decreases feelings of anxiety

Pain and Anxiety Reduction During Labor
Because Reiki induces relaxation, it reduces the perception of pain and helps the laboring woman rest when necessary and conserve her energy during the physically challenging process of labor. Reiki can also help reduce blood pressure, allowing for vital oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the baby. (See our article on Reiki for Birth Fears and Trauma for more information)

Surgical Birth
Reiki can calm the mind and ready the body prior to the surgery and speed recovery and healing following the birth. Fears regarding surgery and the implications of surgical birth can also be addressed.

Stressful Life or Work Situation
As discussed in the section on birth fears, chronic stress can have a negative impact on the health of the mother and the baby. By calming the sympathetic portion of the nervous system, Reiki can help create a state of mind in which handling the stresses of life seems easier and more doable with less anxiety.

Transitioning During the Postpartum Period
After labor and birth, the mother’s body begins its transition to the pre-pregnancy state. Reiki can hasten this recovery by decreasing pain and discomfort as well as speeding healing. Reiki can also help with the hormonal transitioning after birth that can often feel like a “hormonal rollercoaster” and minimize the feeling of “baby blues”. Mild depression, difficulty bonding, and difficulties with breastfeeding may respond positively with Reiki. Receiving Reiki can also help the effectiveness of sessions with other mental health providers.
Whether the birth experience is positive or negative, it is a transformative experience that is integrated into a woman’s new sense of self and her role as a woman and as a mother. Having the opportunity to process this experience can often ease the transition to motherhood.

Reiki for the Newborn
Birth is a major transition for newborns, going from a protected, intimate, fluid environment where everything is immediately provided to an air filled environment where they must communicate all of their needs. Reiki can help calm their newly bombarded nervous system within moments promoting a feeling of peace and safety. Reiki can easily be done with the newborn skin-to-skin with the new mother. Reiki is especially helpful for newborns after a long or hard birth, after a long separation from their mother, or while in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Babies born to mothers who received Reiki during their pregnancy very often recognize the feeling of Reiki and respond almost immediately.

Reiki is an ancient modality that is again gaining popularity. This natural, safe, and non-invasive way of reducing stress and connecting with your growing baby can be incredibly empowering and healing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why I Advocate for Homebirth

I have come to realize in a very real way that my opinions on birth don't just effect me. They effect my child, my friends, my family, and my clients. Some entirely unintended effects are that some of my friends feel they can't talk to me and some of my clients feel they failed me or feel judged by me if they don't have an unmedicated or homebirth. I hope this post can clarify my thoughts. I advocate for homebirth not because I feel it is the only true choice or because I think homebirth mothers are somehow superior. I advocate for homebirth because I care a lot about my friends and clients. It is out of protection and love that I wish a homebirth for you. A place where you will be honored simply because you are a woman embarking on this amazing and challenging journey, a place where you can have moments of weakness and not be rescued, a place where you will be respected for your choices no matter what they are, a place where you will be surrounded by women who will empathize with you and support your innate strength and ability to bring your baby into this world, a place where your baby will be treated as a human being and will be handled gently with love, a place where at least this birth assistant will have tears in her eyes from the sheer awe that comes with every woman's birth triumph and love for her new baby....this place is your home.

My own birth is one which most of my friends know was very disempowering, disrespectful, unfulfilling, and at times traumatic. If mine were the exception in the many hospital births I've attended, I could get past it, but it isn't. I have attended similar births over and over. Women are sold short by their care providers over and over. Women are not given all the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their babies over and over. Mothers are separated from their babies for absolutely no good reason over and over. Women are treated as weak, unintelligent burdens over and over.

I have the sometimes unfortunate ability to feel other people's emotions as my own. Every time a friend or client has a negative or traumatic birth experience, I feel it. When it doesn't work out the way they had hoped and they are filled with guilt, sadness and regret, I feel it. What gets difficult for me is feeling it so often. So you see it isn't judgement that I am feeling, it is a deep sadness that you didn't get what you deserved.

I understand that not every woman can birth safely at home, and I mourn for them, not because they have to go to the hospital, but because they don't get a choice. I also understand that not every woman feels safe giving birth at home, and I mourn for them as well, again not because they have to go to the hospital, but because society and the media have taken away their ability to choose. This is not to say that women cannot have a satisfying and positive birth experience in the hospital. They can and they do. Every time a friend or client chooses the hospital for their birth, I hope against hope that it will be everything they hoped for and more. And if, for some reason, it isn't, I will be there to support them and hold their hand through the tears that will eventually come, not judging, just feeling their pain.

So my sincere wish for every woman is, at the very least, to witness a gentle, loving, respectful, joyful homebirth. I wish this because I want every woman to know what is possible. Then they can make a truly informed decision on where the best place is to have their baby.

Please go to this amazing blog post that accurately represents my doula and birth philosophy. I couldn't have said it better myself. http://http//

Friday, August 15, 2008

AND THE WINNER IS................

Malea !!!

I could not think of a better reason to begin writing my blog again than outrageous bragging on behalf of my incredible child. We entered her in the Dillard's back-to-school model makeover contest in which parents sent in pictures of their child in worn out, outgrown clothing. The reward was a $250 mini-shopping spree (I say mini because it's Dillard's and their stuff is EXPENSIVE), a photo shoot for the Sunday paper, and walking the runway in a fashion show. I entered her for the free clothes, her goal was the photo shoot and fashion show.

The bottom photo was the winner. The top photo was her favorite.
After being notified that she was a winner (and several long minutes of screaming at the top of her lungs) we set up an appointment for a fitting. They allowed Malea to choose two outfits for the photo shoot and fashion show. After several hours of trying on and picking, then reconsidering and adding, she had her two outfits. We were to return the next day for the photo shoot.
When we arrived at Dillard's Malea was VERY excited. She had been practicing poses and looks for days.

Upon arrival she was ushered into the dressing room to don her first outfit and then sent to hair and make-up. Funny thing is, they decided her hair was so cute that she didn't need hair, just make-up. Now I'm not sure if that is because it really was cute or because the mane on her head is daunting, having sent hair dressers running, fearing for their lives. Combing it out takes up to 45 minutes when we haven't been religious about combing it and the amount of product required to tame it is mindblowing. So I guess we'll never know. I'll just take it as a compliment. Make-up was very light and quick.

Ahhhhh.... I didn't think she could get any more beautiful than she already was. I was wrong

One outfit change later and even more gorgeous.

Even models have their moments.
I will attempt to post the video from the fashion show scheduled for tomorrow, something I have yet to figure out how to do.
I have kept Malea from modeling, despite the constant urging from family, friends, and complete strangers because I wanted her to know that the inside is far more important than the outside. I hope that there has been enough of a foundation laid that she can be both- pretty inside and out. I figured that the call from the Gifted and Talented Program last week telling me how smart she was was an indication that she wasn't all beauty, but a bunch of brains as well.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pull'em out, Pull 'em out, Waaaay out!!!

My gorgeous child has been struggling with a not so gorgeous pair of loose teeth. They have been very loose and very crooked for like two or three months now. She was starting to get teased because she began looking a little like Mater from the movie "Cars". We have spent evenings wiggling these two stubborn teeth and have been anxiously waiting for them to fall out. Tonight she went for it.

Before: two crazy teeth

10 Minutes Later: One down, one to go

After: 5 minutes later, one extremely happy, screaming toothless wonder

It's funny how, as a parent, you anxiously await the milestones only to realize afterwards that there is one more thing you will never again experience with them. Proof that they are one step closer to being grown and gone. I am so thankful that I was not at a birth or at school. We got to share a very special moment that I am sure she won't soon forget. A ray of light in a week full of clouds. Hopefully it will be a fond memory that will help her through the times when I'm not able to be there. I have one very tough, brave girl who I know will continue to make me proud every day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brand Spanking New Political Activist

I have always prided myself on being relatively well informed. I know enough about a variety of subjects to be dangerous, a bit like a "jack-of-all-trades master of none". I realized this last week that I am painfully ignorant to the ways of our government. It began with the caucus I went to here in Nevada. I debated going because I have never been to one, and I am not comfortable in situations I am unfamiliar with. I had no idea what to expect and had assumed that there would be lots of people trying to give me information to help me make up my mind. Yes, I'm still on the fence, even after caucusing (if that's a word). That didn't happen. I had to beg to have my questions answered and no one from any camp knew a thing about midwives, especially the direct-entry variety. I can't say I'm shocked. What I can say is that I'm disappointed. I realize that I am entering a field that is not well known nationally and especially in Nevada, but I had hoped that someone would have some idea. Didn't happen. I did have conversations with several other voters, and they are now aware of midwives (or at least midwifery students) in Nevada. Maybe that is my role in all of this. Education. I know my massage clients are sick of hearing my latest midwifery rant, so talking about midwifery is apparently very easy and enjoyable for me.

Round two came in Washington state this week at school. Part of the education I am receiving includes political issues surrounding midwifery. It is an invaluable part of the program. I spent an entire day with midwives, instructors, student midwives, and midwifery consumers meeting with state senators and representatives to help gather support for a midwifery related bill. Embarrassingly, I have no idea who my representatives are, nor did I know that I could just make an appointment and talk with them. I can't say that before midwifery I had much to talk to them about. I have been fairly absent when it comes to knowing local issues.

I was impressed with the knowledge, tenacity and patience of these women who have come before me, the ones who have opened, and will continue to open, the door for me. I plan to help nudge it open a little further. I have now been bitten by the political bug, and have no idea where that will take me or what it might mean. I think it means I am in for a long, exhausting haul. With no licensing or regulation in the state of Nevada, and many who prefer it stay that way, I'm not sure what the future holds. What I do know is that I want to be part of that future, whatever it may bring.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The First Step

On the midwifery front, I was part of an amazing birth last night. I got to watch a fantastic doula in action and help out here and there with a little Reiki and massage during the labor at home. And then we left for the hospital. I was very skeptical of what would take place when we got there. We were greeted exactly the way I had assumed. The anxiety level went up about 8 notches when we got there. Bright lights, lots of people (5 in addition to the 4 of us) 3 offers for a heplock, lots of monitoring and I think a partridge in a pear tree. During that time, the doula was great. She stayed in the moms face and helped her tune it all out and focus her back. The feeling had changed dramatically from what it had been at the house.

And then something entirely unexpected happened. A nurse-midwife was attending the birth, and as soon as she got there things began to change. She turned the lights WAY down, took the monitors off to respect the mom's wishes for intermittent monitoring and had a nurse hold it on every other contraction. She brought the level of the room way down. She did the most amazing instruction and perineal support during crowning that my jaw literally dropped. I might even have said "Holy shit!" under my breath. The baby got to go right to mom's chest where she was left for at least an hour. It was the closest thing I have ever seen to a homebirth in the hospital. No meds, no wires, no harassing of the mom. I cried as usual and was just grateful that I got to be there and help out in whatever minuscule way I could. Births make me outrageously happy. School administrators are a whole different story....